The Lasting Effect of A Montana Sunset

Dry brown scrubby grass poked at me as I sat on a gentle, dusty slope watching orange, purple, and turquoise light bounce off the flame red pony standing sleepily next to me while her long, flaxen mane and my light brown, tangled hair caught the last few rays of this long summer day.

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I pulled my knees to my chest and looked down to the big farmhouse, a bright green pasture, while barking dogs and a building crescendo of thundering frog-song from tiny throats gave voice to a summer well-spent.

There were many days like this in my childhood.

Days enough to fill my heart and warm my soul while I sit and look at skeleton trees stark and silent against the faint glint of a winter’s sun through heavy clouds.  A recent snowstorm left piles of snow.  The once pristine, fluffy, and soft drape on the landscape no longer a blanket of beauty but now covering the endless brown in red cinder and heavy crusts of melted, then frozen again, slush. A miserable gray day flanked by rain and wind is nevertheless made brighter by the memory of a day, long ago, sandwiched between a red pony and a Montana sunset.

Isn’t that just the way God works? 

Surrounded by beauty for only a moment, yet, we can hold tightly to that thought for years.

It seems there have been more February days over the past few years than I care to think about too deeply.  Definitely more of the gray than of glorious, horizon spanning, sunsets.

But in the middle of the ashes I can remember beauty.  In the midst of spirit-withering darkness, a splash of gold in a darkening sky.

It is easy, friend, to forget the good when we are so heavily inundated with a society bent on the cruelest of criticisms.  The uncertainty of our futures, a struggling economy, life changes…

Take a minute, stop and breathe,  then close your eyes and remember a summer day, long ago, when there were no pressing issues, nowhere that we have to be, no one to please just a broad brush painting the horizon and a gentle breeze across your face while a symphony of life in bird song and frog-trumpets, loud dogs and laughing children reverberates through your heart.

sunset glogBecause He doesn’t change, I can look forward to more beauty ahead than any darkness this life can throw at me.

 

 

A Beautiful Truth About An Ugly Thing

Think of the ugliest, darkest, most chilling thing you can imagine.  Hold it firmly in the center of your vision and don’t let go.   Wrap your mental fingers around it until they freeze in place and no amount of prying can get you loose again.

Now visualize hanging over an exquisitely beautiful garden.  But you can’t let go of this thing you hold so you can be IN the garden.  You are an observer.  An outsider.

The Thing is a ledge and beyond it lie despair and hopelessness resonating within a void where no good thing can live.

Everyone around you thrives in the garden.  They smell flowers, walk between manicured hedges, taste sweet berries ripening on curling vines while your muscles scream for relief and, concentrating on lifting a finger at a time, you strain your soul to release this thing so you too can land among flower beds and enjoy the paths entwining lives.  As one finger loosens, the possibility of freedom and a new beginning peeks around the corner of a broken, battered soul.

“Will it hurt when I land?”

“How damaged will I be by the blight  of which I have been a part for so long?”

“Surely those who walk in all this loveliness wouldn’t want me to shadow their experience with this ugliness.”

“Who would I be without the darkness?”

“How can I live in constant light?”

“They will see me as I am and know I am unworthy.”

One after another, a spinning cacophony of thoughts cast a web of fear keeping us holding tightly to that hated, but familiar, ledge.

Not quite in the darkness, never fully in the light.

Loved ones call you to come down off the ledge, well intentioned voices give well-intentioned advice, and you smile, nodding, and promise to try…

And yet… You can’t move.

You are stuck in this place that doesn’t make sense to you much less anyone else.  But it has become as much a part of your identity as the color of your eyes, the size of your shoes, the dreams and passion that beckon from a place beyond either darkness or beauty.

This is depression.  Anxiety.  Recovery. 

If you haven’t lived it, you might think me melodramatic.

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If you have? You understand when I say it has been the truth of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

I’ve become old, familiar friends with a sluggish, sloth-like emotional stagnation keeping me firmly fixated on those things that protect the fragility of my reality even while brilliance, life, joy, and beauty explode in a breathtaking fireworks display of marriage, family, church fellowship, and spiritual personal discovery.

Is this an oxymoron?  Can a personality co-exist in two realities and not be vacant in one or vapid in the other?

I don’t know how it all works. I just know it is a phenomenon I am not alone in experiencing.    There are times when the darkness is stronger than the ambrosia scented garden.  In flashes of brilliance, the light overwhelms encroaching fingers of despair and a dusky silhouette approximating freedom can emerge for a season, a day, a moment.

Until I retreat from the Unsafe, the Frightening, the Abuser… I find a safe, dark corner and hold my own trembling hands in fear.   A busy mind devoted to every conceivable escape route hungers for  solitude and safety.

God is faithful to be where I am.  Often, it seems, He sits comfortably on the ledge and soothes me while I struggle to trust, to fall, to believe. He doesn’t seem to mind when my obsessions become so much mental litter cluttering the landscape.

Not willing to leave me alone in the dark, He gives so much more than a flickering candle.  He illuminates the softly tender parts of me. Those which have lain long dormant in whispered anticipation of healing and wholeness.

My pinkie lifts.  Sometimes a whole hand is free.  I look into the garden more often now than the darkness.

Still unsure of who I am becoming but thankful I have a chance to try, I close my eyes and breath deeply.

 “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
― Plato

 

A Decade of Homeschooling – Part 3

So, the business of being a homeschooling mom, adjusting to our fall schedule and getting our bearings has take its toll on my writing.  Which is as it should be.  *insert cheesy grin here*  But, if you want to read the story of our homeschooling lessons over the past decade, start HERE and then go HERE , or, just read part 3 first.

You are the boss.

quiet time

A friend schedules an hour to an hour a half of quiet every afternoon, and guards it jealously.   This is her oasis in the middle of the busy-ness of their life and home school. 

I haven’t found I need it every day, but, about once a week, I kick the family out of the house and pet the dog/cat while I stare out the window in absolute silence.   This is a critical part of my ability to survive the constant pressure of intense dialog with two teen boys who are firmly entrenched in the blacks and whites of life.  The kind of conversations where they are absolutely right… Until they aren’t.

They want to talk about a lot of deep concepts and are wrestling with a society that makes little sense to them.  Philosophical consistency is critical to their security and they are finding themselves in a world lacking much dependability.  This is often a mentally exhausting exercise and yet, it is absolutely the most rewarding element of parenting I’ve yet to experience.

Maybe you struggle with little ones who constantly need to touch and you are on physical contact overload.  Or the phone rings constantly because of a needy friend or family member.

permission slipBe intentional about getting your quiet time. 

Silence is not wasted time.  Don’t fill it with bible studies, writing in your journal, or more lesson planning.   This is your quiet time.  Close your eyes and rest.  Tell the Lord the things in your heart that have surfaced that day.  Listen to some beautiful music without words.   Breath. In and out.  Repeatedly and slowly.   Maybe you are more active and need motion to mentally rest?  I’ve had seasons like that.  In fact, when the boys were little, I used to walk every morning and it provided me much-needed perspective on the day and the function of our messy little world.

accountability risk

If you’ve ever done any kind of weight loss or gym commitment you understand the value of accountability.  Even the accountability of the bank and those pesky little overdraft fees at least keeps you mindful of what you are doing and why!

There is a special kind of insecurity we experience as home educators and parents that I would just love to punch in the face.    We have the fear of someone finding out we didn’t do our math yesterday or that our 15 year old doesn’t know the months of the year in order, not that I’d be familiar with those particular fears, it’s all hypothetical.

Right.

We stand alone in our living rooms trembling at the thought of someone realizing we threw our curriculum together from Costco workbooks and an over used library card racking up late fees.  We feel proud of the $1000 we spent on a full box curriculum in September and hide in shame and embarrassment because we haven’t even OPENED the spelling/vocab/art/history lessons and it’s now February 13th.

What do you do?  How do you break that cycle?

Sign up for the local homeschool group chat board (even if sometimes they act like girls and wax long and eloquent over minutiae) and ask your questions.  There is nothing a seasoned homeschool parent likes to talk about more than their own experiences. Please understand that we WANT to encourage you because we ALL remember the beginning and the fear of failing to  teach our 5 year old to count and say his ABC’s.

Join the Co-Op, if you have time (refer to Mama’s Time).   Give yourself permission to be the one to fetch papers and fill coffee pots, clean up after, or sit in the nursery holding babies.

Maybe, if you are like me, you might find friends who understand your struggle and are eager to encourage you.  Don’t need that? What about a class/field trip/co-op you didn’t know existed.  If you are especially fortunate, you may find a friend or two for your kids who both understand the challenges of being a homescholar and can encourage them.  Perhaps you will discover, as I did, an aptitude and passion for teaching and the impetus to prepare for a class gives you a much needed boost of  accountability to be a better educator at home. Not to mention the personal affirmation of doing something for which you have passion.     

grace mercy

In the middle of a reading lesson, for the son I didn’t know as dyslexic at the time, I burst into tears and ran to the bedroom.   It was a chore, every day, to attempt to reach him. I was tired.   Day after day I would open that book, 100 Easy Lessons, feeling hopeful and every day we would argue, he would cry, I would get angry and frustrated,  threats and bribes would echo off the walls until, finally, I gave up and we would try something else.

Honestly, this was truly one of the most miserable seasons of my parenting experience.

But we stuck it out and kept trying.  We continued looking for the Thing that would “speak his language”, as I often say.

God was faithful to open doors, understanding, and provided, through a very unlikely situation, just what we needed to not only diagnose his reading struggle, but to educate ME on how to reach him.

We revamped a whole lot, prayed quite a bit, and learned to look at each day as a new beginning where we could accept God’s grace and mercy, pass that around, and see Him work within our homeschool to provide, for our kids and ourselves, what we needed to keep going.

The boy still doesn’t understand the thrill I feel at the anticipation of a new book and, just yesterday, as he was reading his assigned work, he said, “I really don’t understand why people are so into reading.”

Which made me smile.

Because of God’s faithfulness to us, he doesn’t have to enjoy reading but at least he can and has the choice.

not a Sprint

This is Important.  If you read nothing else, read this: 

Take One Day At A Time.  

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither the relationship nor character necessary for success that the Lord is building within your family will come quickly.

When the boys were little we’d have entire weeks of “character development” studies.   We took the time to learn to work together.  We did school most days, a little bit at a time, and then marveled at what we had accomplished over the course of months and years.

I cannot stress enough the gift of friendship and relationship that our family enjoys.  This is, I believe, a direct result of us being willing to follow the vision God has placed on our hearts and not be sidetracked by someone else’s “vision” for us. 

I have two children.  Two fine young men.   In a few short years they will be on their way and all the years of personal sacrifice, mutual investment will have to stand on its own.   I know we have failed in some areas and, hopefully, we will have succeeded in others without even realizing it.

I have intentionally and methodically homeschooled my boys for a decade but I have poured my heart into them since the moment I knew of their existence.

It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’ve questioned my abilities every summer as I look ahead at a new year and each subject (cough, cough… math) as it increases in both intensity and difficulty.

But as a friend told me years ago,

“God will do miracles for you and for your children.  He cares more about their education than you do.  Trust Him.”

Now, get out there and DO THIS!!!  You can.  I know it.

Five Ways To Touch God

God is real

“I have come,” said a deep voice behind them. They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.”
― C.S. LewisThe Silver Chair

 

Is God so real to our existence that all around becomes pale and shadowy in comparison?

Or have we reduced our faith so that He, instead, looms opaque and unknowable in the distance, a powerless figurehead incapable of relating or redeeming us from the all too real troubles whether self-imposed or unfairly leveled at our unguarded hearts.

How does one relate to the Invisible God who delights in hiding, like a cosmic game of Hide & Seek, His mysteries to see who will care enough to go treasure hunting.

This Truth has been a constant battle as I rely heavily on reasonable truths, clear parameters, and the simple, quantifiable, reliability of self-determination.

But, my clenched fists, Heidi-based faith, does tend to put a great deal of pressure on ME to provide the strength to navigate the curious inconsistencies of life.

I’m not built for that kind of weight.  It breaks me.

The stress appears slowly, at first, with small fractures in composure, is followed by entire pieces of my personality falling into disarray,and has the tendency to result in a near complete collapse of my carefully constructed identity.

Knowing that track record, it seems the very definition of insanity to hold on, white knuckles cracking, teeth grinding, knowing what my belief system brings in the end.

How does God make Himself real to us?

  1. Find God in His own Words.  When I read Him, consistently, I hear His voice more clearly.
  2. Beauty draws us toward the Divine.  Spending less time on chaos and more time contemplating the elegance of nature and the wild, gloriousness of the creativity of my own gifts or the expression of others draws us out of self-imposed neutrality.  Music. Art. Dance. Design. Poetry. Literature.  Look for beauty.  It’s not hard to find when you have trained your eye to seek it.   
  3. Look for those more needy than yourself.  It is an emulation of the heart of God to reach out to those who struggle and offer them, from richness or lack, the gift of compassion and help.  This expands our vision from a soul-killing rabbit hole of self-absorption and allows us to see a horizon filled with opportunities.
  4.  Be still.  Really still.  And breathe. Sometimes, many times, life is beyond my ability to manage.   So I need to stop all my doing, searching, longing, hoping, dreaming, observing, analyzing…  I relearn to just be still.   Let the quietness wash over the empty space.  God always shows up.  And He’s ok with silence.
  5. Remember the times He spoke, read the journals you wrote, re-tell the stories of miracles and provision.  When all else fails, remember.  Don’t let the fabric of your story be forgotten.  It is the warp and weft of who you are.   God’s fingerprints, silver and gold threads, are woven carefully throughout the pain and the joy, the hope and the depression, where a those yesterdays are carefully paving all way for tomorrow

How do you know God is real?

You are.   You exist. You are very real. That is the first proof you need.

Everything else falls into place once you can see yourself through the eyes of One who loves you.

Ashtrays & Alabaster Jars

You know that one story?

The  sinful woman who splashed her life’s savings onto the head of the only One who could take her hand and lift her out of a pit of self-loathing, societal expectation, and broken dreams?

anointing oil (1).jpgSunlight filtered through the windows, dust motes dancing on a light breeze, an idyllic setting were it not for the horrified gasps and thundering silence.  The intoxicating and familiar sweet, spicy, musky fragrance permeated unbelieving senses as those good people tried to reconcile the scents of worship with her extravagant display.  She poured out her only treasure, destroyed the value of a priceless jar where the ebb and flow of cream and caramel swirls now stopped, abruptly jagged, where the seal had been broken.

The scent of spikenard, reminiscent of clouds of incense billowing near the altar in their most Holy Temple warred within their cultural sensitivities and clear codes of righteousness as they sat, stunned, before the image of their Savior being touched by one such as she.

Confusion turns to heated dialogue.  Dialogue intensifies to emotional outrage. Outrage solidifies to an anger of the most insidious variety.

Self-righteous anger. In defense of what must be held dear and kept constant.  For surely, this holy man whom they followed could see the jeopardy He had put them all into by His quiet acceptance of….

Her.

The broken, defiled woman who dared to disturb the comfort and sanctity of their holy convocation.

Why would she dare to step foot inside?  Did the women of the household press themselves to the wall, covering shocked faces with head scarves and clean hands, as she passed for fear her uncleanness would taint them?  Did the servants whisper?   Did she push her way, determined,  through the children gathered at His knee until, finally, she could give Him the treasure she had kept safe for all those years?

Was it hope or desperation that drew her?   Perhaps it was the kindness of a God made Flesh who caressed the cheek of lepers and who wept over a city that had ceased to recognize Him?  Perhaps she watched from the edges of the crowd, while those earnest followers clustered near, until one day He met her gaze and smiled. Perhaps she knew He knew all she had been, all she had done, and He still smiled at her.

Was it simply that she had this one thing to give.  One single gift.   He was the only One who was worth the price.

Is it possible she knew He was the only one who would receive her only gift…

I am certain she trembled as, standing over Him, knowing she was again the subject of speculation, outrage, and gossip, she dared the unthinkable.

Could He be trusted?  Had that smile, those words, those eyes been saying, to her, what she thought they were saying?

Tensions and tempers rose as the voices began to rumble through that room. How could she have known what His reply would be to these righteous men, these moral and good women? What could be said to silence their accusations and disdain?

“She poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. Yes! I tell you that throughout the whole world, wherever this Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told in her memory.”

That was it.

She was no longer an ashtray of discarded hopes. She became an alabaster jar welling up with priceless fragrance.

She had been redeemed.

There is a story here for all of us whether we are the broken woman, the self-righteous disciple,or the narrator of someone else’s pain.

The story is simple.   We have a Redeemer who sees our value not in the things we bring but in our courage to seek and find Him.   We have a Kind Savior who will welcome us into a room we would rather avoid.  We have a Defender when those around us would have other plans for our gift.

And, most importantly, despite what the whispers might say…

You belong to the Man with the kind eyes who doesn’t shy away from sickness, disease, hopelessness, and pain.

Yes, friend, we belong.

Monday Morning Meditation Isaiah 40:11

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He is like… And He comes… Feeding, gathering, carrying, gently leading.   The One who counts the oceans by handfuls and spans the sky with a ruler.  The One who knows the measure of dust, puts mountains on scales, and balances the hills.

The words tell us a few things:

First, He has many attributes, many skills, many gifts.  But who is He?

A shepherd.  Feeding, gathering, carrying, gently leading the mother sheep.

And that resonates in my mother’s heart on this day after Mother’s Day with all of its pageantry and brunches, flowers and gifts.  Underneath all of it…

He cradles the lambs tenderly against His chest and gently leads the mother sheep…

That’s me.

He carries my lambs, His lambs,  and shows me in sweet kindness where I should go.

It was a bright summer morning and I was overwhelmed with one, resounding, echoing thought…

“How can I know that my boys will follow Christ?  How can I insure this legacy of faith we are building to invest into our children?”

They were little, 6 and 8, and couldn’t care less about such big ideas.   But my heart ached for some kind of confidence that I could let go of this anxiety that welled up in me.  What are the odds?  What are the statistics?

For Christian children to leave their parent’s home and maintain their faith is becoming an anomaly, not the norm.  And I pondered my own journey and the struggles within our family trees until fear gripped my heart.

“Please God, keep them!”, I whispered over the pile of soapy dishes while Mr. Rogers sang of fish and friendship in the living room. In that desperate moment, the quietest voice whispered to my  heart… With truth and conviction I have held onto these words as one would harbor a precious jewel.

“I am the perfect Father and yet, My children wander.  Trust Me with your children. Teach them of Me.  Trust Me to keep them.”

The anxiety melted off like mist, my shoulders straightened, and we moved forward from that day.  Peace filled my heart for I had been gently led while the Good Shepherd cradled my lambs on His chest.

Linking up with Girl Meets Paper for Monday Morning Meditation

Story Line –> On Coming Home

love.pngI will never forget the first time I met my husband…

At the time he was a stranger on our missions base and my friend was in charge of hospitality.

I remember as we walked up the paved path through a February evening fog lit by dim lights talking, as young girls are prone to, of the mystery of The One.

Tossing her curly strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder she described a man with strong character and rich conviction.  Handsome, of course, and a “perfect” match.  We giggled and swore we’d recognize HIM, when he showed.  I would recognize her future husband since I would, most definitely, receive some sort of divine inspiration.

Ahh… The innocent arrogance of youth.

The floor boards creaked in that second story dormitory entrance while Jennifer gave directions to a barber in such a way that I popped my head around the corner to help and there he was: dark hair, handsome, tan, lean, and suffering from what must have been the world’s worst cold.

Sitting next to a huge box of oranges, he was asking about getting a haircut.  His companion, a swarthy, curly haired man, with a thick German accent, laid on the upper bunk and listened intently to a conversation he couldn’t possibly have been interested in having.

That Friday was a day of running into each other constantly across campus and one singularly embarrassing moment at lunch where I placed my finger in a book and loudly declared that “whichever name I have my finger on will be the name of my  husband” in a huge joke to my laughing friends… The name I then announced?  Was his.  It wasn’t until I turned that I saw he sat right behind me talking with Adrianna.

I almost died.

That evening, as we sat shoulder to shoulder watching some Rocky movie, no idea which one, I was elated by the attention.

Early the next morning,  he left.

*Poof*

A happy memory of one exciting day, the excitement of one enchanted evening left me smiling for a few days and wondering about this man from California.  Would I ever see him again?  Could I ever see him again?

One week later, I’m covered in flour from a food fight in the kitchen as we made apple pies for a few dozen people when a mischievous face came into the kitchen office.  “Heidi, there are two GORGEOUS guys here and they are asking for YOU!”  She giggled as she watched my face drain of color and a panic stricken look settled across my features.  Serious fight or flight going on here, folks.

Within minutes they were there.  Tobi and Brian.  Tall and broad shouldered and seriously in my space.  I directed them to a room and RAN down to my house to make some attempt at regaining my composure and appearance before rejoining them in the common room.

“Wanna grab something to eat?” Brian asked.  I looked at my friend, Laurel, feeling a bit panicked.  What would I do in a restaurant booth with both of these men?  Men I didn’t know!!! I was 19.  Completely void of sophistication.

So, insisting that Laurel join us and eternally grateful for her easy laugh and friendly nature so I could take the back seat, we headed off to pot pie and chit chat. Tobi stayed home.  Now we were an awkward trio.

Two hours later and a quick goodbye as Laurel headed up the road to her house I stood face to face with him.  It was just us settling into an old sagging couch.  Without pretense, we started talking about life.  Hopes.  Dreams.  Plans. Callings.

Hearts wide open, without reservation and common sense, time flew and, before we knew it, 3:00AM had come and gone while we talked like long, lost friends.

This, this was different and we both knew it.   He walked me back to my house on that same path Jennifer and I had walked the week before. He took my hand, tucked it under his arm, and asked if he could pray.   The light rain danced on my face and I marveled at the gift of this night, this man, this moment…

Yellow porch lights flickered while we talked a bit longer on that front step before he said goodbye.   A very chaste kiss on my cheek felt branded there as I floated into Meadow House and collapsed on my bed in a rosy glow.

6:30 came early and, yet, even though I had had so little sleep I was there to see them off.

All that time we had spent together the night before, the romance of a moonlit, foggy stroll, and low lights on a front porch, but there was one moment I remember most…

When he hugged me goodbye, my head fit perfectly into his shoulder.  I knew, at that moment,  I had come home.

We married 7 months later and, on February 17th, 2013, we celebrated 19 years since that day we met.

I still fit, just right.

Where he is, I am always home.

Come over to Kathi’s for more Stories in Story Line.  Where we tell our stories and share them with others.

A Great Awakening

Ideals long forgotten, lying about dusty anComing of aged forlorn with disuse, have been rediscovered, carefully dusted off, and burnished by the sharing between many hands and hearts. Now widely accepted, ornamented with fanciful words, they once again take a prominent place in our ongoing dialogue. Illuminated by the sincerity of a purpose only recently examined by the newest faces of faith, those, with zeal outweighing wisdom and passion outperforming the homely sweetness of simple conviction, see these truths as newly minted. Even trendy.

Justice. Relevance. Transparency. Sacrifice. Service. Community. Compassion.

Radical.

How easy it is to forget or never learn of the bridge builders and fence burners of decades past who also once proudly held up these salvaged canons of faith . Our goals, ideals, and purpose mimic theirs while we enjoy better marketing and language sharpened by a worldview that denying us the luxury of summarized answers and elementary solutions. Continue reading